The 2010 NFL Draft weekend is now behind us, and as result of transactions that occurred during that weekend, the following players could be looking for new homes.
1. Oakland Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell
With the acquisition of quarterback Jason Campbell, it seems a far gone conclusion at this point that the 2007 #1 overall draft pick will not be a member of the Raiders in 2010. Russell is currently accounting for $15.3 million against Oakland’s team salary. If released, then by virtue of team salary accounting rules and the bonus acceleration that is part of these rules, Russell’s 2010 dead money number will be $19.9 million, but in an uncapped year this enormous amount – which is slightly higher than Peyton Manning’s team salary number – is not a hindrance to the Raiders. From a cash perspective, the release of Russell will save the Raiders $6 million in salary, as $3.5 million of Russell’s $9.5 million salary remains guaranteed. With the start of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), the Raiders would be wise to release Russell before he suffers a season-ending injury, which would result in the Raiders being responsible for the full $9.5 million salary.
2. Seattle Seahawks WR Deion Branch
Branch has been a disappointment for his entire tenure in Seattle, and with the drafting of Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate in the second round, coupled with the continued development of 2009 third round pick Deon Butler, one could very well surmise that Branch’s days could be limited in the Pacific Northwest. Branch currently accounts for $8 million in team salary. By releasing Branch, the Seahawks could save themselves $5.5 million in Branch’s salary. Similar to Russell, that’s a lot of money at risk during OTAs for a player who may or may not factor into your plans for 2010.
3. Oakland Raiders DT Tommy Kelly
While the release of Kelly, who is one of the top ten highest paid defensive tackles in the game, is very unlikely, the drafting of second round defensive tackle Lamarr Houston may not bold well for Kelly’s future. The Raiders have acquired young pass rushers Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves; these acquisitions may allow Richard Seymour to kick down to defensive tackle more frequently, which could squeeze out Kelly. Kelly currently accounts for $7.4 million in team salary. By terminating him, the Raiders would save $4.5 million in salary but incur a dead money charge against their team salary books of $11.5 million. However, as I mentioned in the case of Russell, if there’s ever a time to take on significant dead money, it’s the 2010 uncapped year.
4. Dallas Cowboys WR Roy Williams
Similar to Tommy Kelly, I do not foresee this termination occurring, primarily due to the fact that Williams’ $3.5 million salary is fully guaranteed and somehow think that Jerry Jones would like to get some sort of return on that investment, even if it’s minimal given the presence of first round wide receiver Dez Bryant. Like Kelly, Williams accounts for $7.4 million against the Cowboys’ team salary books. If they were to terminate Williams, not only would they still be on the hook for $3.5 million in salary, but they would take on a dead money charge of $17.5 million.
5. Cincinnati Bengals DE Robert Geathers
Geathers, a 15-game starter in 2009 for the Bengals, is surely going to be pushed by 2010 second round pick, defensive end Carlos Dunlap and 2009 third round pick Michael Johnson. Dunlap and Johnson could very well push Geathers out of the building. By terminating Geathers, who currently accounts for $5.5 million, the Bengals could save $3.5 million in Geathers’ salary. Geathers’ fate can easily depend upon the recovery of defensive end Antwan Odom, who prior to suffering a season ending injury in 2009, was having a break out season.
6. San Francisco 49ers S Michael Lewis
With fellow safety Dashon Goldson solidifying his status in the 49ers secondary with a strong 2009 season, Lewis will have to battle second round pick Taylor Mays for the starting safety position opposite of Goldson. The 49ers can save themselves $4.1 million by releasing Lewis. If Lewis cannot beat out Mays for the starting position, then $4.1 million is a lot of money to pay to a third safety, but first Lewis has to hope he even gets the opportunity to make it to training camp.
7. New Orleans Saints CB Randall Gay
The drafting of first round cornerback Patrick Robinson does not bold well for the future of the six year veteran Gay. The Saints have three young corners in Robinson, Tracy Porter, and Malcolm Jenkins who they have invested high picks in; not to mention the significant financial investment made into cornerback Jabari Greer. At best, Gay is the Saints’ fourth or fifth cornerback, and with $3 million due to him in a combination of a $500,000 roster bonus and $2.5 million salary, it would not be surprising to see the Saints let Gay go. With the roster bonus being earned on May 1st, a decision on Gay could be made by week’s end.
Football Outsiders reader Dr. Obvious asks: “Is [Steelers linebacker Lamarr] Woodley, and any other Pro-Bowl quality player under a rookie contract screwed?” And Twitter follower @JonathanCarter0 asks: “What are ways that Tennessee could get around the 30% rule and get Chris Johnson that money?”
My fellow capologist Ian Whetstone does a great job breaking down the nuances, specifically the 30% rule, prohibiting a lucrative multi-year extension of Woodley in his recent article (http://pit.scout.com/2/966042.html). In addition to Woodley, Titans running back Chris Johnson is clearly disgruntled with his rookie contract, given his productivity, and the same can be assumed for Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. If this were a normal league year with a salary cap, then signing these players to multi-year deals reflective of their productivity would not be a problem. As far as how one can get a deal done in spite of the 30% rule to reward these players, there are certain complex contracts structures that could potentially work, but the complexities of such deals probably diminishes the likelihood of a team and player executing such a deal. The simple and more likely temporary resolution is to sign these players to a short term contract of one or two years that holds them over until the labor environment changes (ie, the Kevin Kolb extension). For example, if a player and club agree that the player’s market value is $6 million per year, then a two year deal with minimum salaries totaling roughly $1 million and a signing bonus of $11 million could be executed as a temporary resolution.
Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101